1854: Wagner: RING: The Rhinegold Themes

SUNDAY, August 16, 2020

Stand alone views…

I like things to be “stand alone”, meaning that when I’m learning something, I want to be able to just start and not have to turn to other sources for info. I don’t know if it is always possible to present things this way, but I’m trying. Hopefully you can start here, knowing nothing about Wagner and get something out of it.

What “The Ring” is…

First of all “The Ring” is a massive set of four long operas, and if you wanted to watch all of them, it would take around 14 hours. That’s not as along as you think, because every Star Wars movie is around two hours long, and there are nine. If you watch all of them, even over several days, that’s going to be around 18 hours, and maybe more.

But we are conditioned to have patience for movies. And in movies we don’t have to listen to people sing a foreign language while acting out a musical drama that belongs to an entirely different time period. All of this reflects values and thinking from around 150 years ago. It’s not easy to put the brain into that very different mindset.


Wagner wrote “Leitmotivs”, and although it may sound a bit stuffy to use a German term, in this case you want to learn that word. It looks and sounds like “light motifs”, so I immediately think of Luke Skywalker with his light saber. However, “leit” means “leading”, and “motifs” are themes. So these themes “lead” you into knowing who is who. You know who is going to do something next, or who is going to sing next. Wagner was the first person to make this idea in music really famous. The same thing then happened in Peter and the Wolf by Prokoview. Then John Williams used it in Star Wars.

The Themes (Leitmotivs) to “The Rhinegold”…

You can divide them up by characters or where those characters are. I started out with all of this in chronological order, for myself. It didn’t work, so I started collect them in another way.

Rhine themes:

  • 0:00 Rhine Theme: It’s just an Eb chord developed over 4-5 minutes.
  • 4:12 Rhinemaidens: The Rhinemaidens are three water-nymphs who live in the Rhine.
  • 15:12 Joy : All three maidens have a trio. Everyone seems to agree on the name “Joy”. It sort of uses the same chord as the Rhine Theme.
  • 2:01:35 Minor Rhine Theme: It’s very slow, and it switches to minor.
  • 2:16:15 Rainbow: This is essentially right back to the Rhine Theme, and it happens very nearly at the end of this story.

The gods…

  • 24:10 Valhalla: It’s about Wotan, the alpha god, announced by harp. There is a rainbow bridge scene, and it’s Wotan’s first appearance. This is the home of the gods, built by the giants.
  • 2:14:32 Donner’s Theme, Thunder: You can hear the thunder, which is in the percussion.
  • 4:12 Loge Theme I: Loge is sort of a “dark god”. He is important in making the gold. This part of his music twists and turns, either going up or down.
  • 44:22 Loge Theme II: This is the second part of his music: It goes together with the first part. It forms a unit.

The main villain:

  • 6:38 Alberich Theme I: His music is always ugly. Alberich is half Snidely Whiplash and half Hannibal Lecter. He’s sort of a silly, puffed up villain, but he represents something very real, a basic evil based on jealousy, greed and many more things of that nature. So in that sense he is really frightening. Lots of snarling horn parts.
  • 13:21 Alberich Theme II: It’s still ugly. We never forget that he’s the number one bad guy.

Grief or Woe:

  • 11:12 Grief or Woe Theme: Wagner uses this idea in zillion ways, and it’s usually the pitch falling 1/2 step, often half-diminished to diminished chords. It’s about woe, pain, grief. It’s a real downer.
  • 1:33: 26: Fate theme I: It’s a lot like the Woe Theme, but much longer.
  • 48:32 Fate Theme II: Very like the other Fate Theme but shorter,  also linked to the Woe Theme.
  • 1:49:38 Fate Theme II: Double time, resolves to major. This time it almost has a happy ending, temporarily.

Gold, “The Ring” and the sword:

  • 14: 01 Gold: This is one of the most important themes in the Ring. It’s a simple fanfare on a triad, usually in the key of G. The ring or Ring is made of gold.
  • 20:41 Gold theme: This time it’s in minor.
  • 2:19:04 : Sword: Very similar to the Gold Theme but longer and slower and going to V7. The Sword becomes a center of the whole story in later operas, but Wagner introduced the theme in “The Rhinegold”.
  • 41:23 Golden Apples: And these words are literally sung. The Golden Apples are what keep the gods young.
  • 1:51:13: Golden Apples:
  • 19:46 Ring Theme: This is kind of a soaring melody. It’s actually the Walhalla Theme with different chords and a different rhythm.

The Giants:

Forging the Ring – (All this happens in the part about the Giants):

The Magic Helmet:

This is unique, and it’s really important.It signals anything strange that is about to happen. It’s like the Woe Theme, but it goes up 1/2 step instead of down.

It must happen close to 10 times, and here are just a few of those times:

Other themes, and I might add more later:

  • 18:00 Renunciation of Love: It’s in C natural minor and descends from Eb. Woglinde talks about renouncing love, then later Alberich does the same thing.
  • : 04:34 Limping Theme: This has some weird name, but I can never remember it. It has off beats in the winds with strong beats in the low strings. It may belong with the other themes about fate, but it doesn’t drop in pitch.
  • 2:11:14 Limping Theme:

Leave a Reply